23 Feb 2020

The Season of our Discontent

There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory. 
Neil Postman

Every day, on the internet, in group forums, Youtube and Facebook comments, gear reviews and photography groups I see people over and over again complaining about some new camera or lens that isn't perfect for them. It hasn't got a new sensor or there's not enough megapixels or why would a company bring out another lens of a certain length when they already have others covering that length? Or why isn't this lens faster and have better bokeh? 

Constant discontent. 

It seems that no one online is ever happy about anything. I can imagine that if you were to spend any time reading comments anywhere you would soon become quite depressed and possibly end up adding your own depressing comments to everyone else's. I find it all incredibly sad.

I'm an old school photographer. I started in film and switched to digital in 2004. I remember this because my daughter was born that year and her baby photos switch from film to digital part way through her first year. Back then digital cameras were nothing like what they are now. Very low megapixels and the sensor technology has vastly improved since then. They weren't great cameras but we appreciated the new found benefits we got from going digital. No film processing fees and being able to shoot as much as we wanted to as long as we had memory cards and battery power. Everything was new and exciting and people seemed very happy with their camera gear. 

Fast forward a few years though and even with the growth of technology and the internet and how much more powerful and capable our cameras are, no one seems to appreciate just how far that technology has progressed. How much cleaner our images are at higher ISOs and how easy it is to share images with family around the world. Even with the pocket and bridge cameras and smart phones.  I would even say that nowadays there no bad cameras being made.

This seems to be the season of our discontent. 

I don't think people have always been this discontented with things or their lives. I think when new technology like automatic washers came along people were very happy to have them and appreciated the extra time they gained and the hard work this machine saved them from. No, I think the internet and advertisers have bred our discontent by constantly bombarding us with images and information about new things we don't have and places we haven't been. Advertisers have latched on to our fears of not fitting in, of not being good enough and have monetized our struggles to find purpose and meaning in life. All of this is what is creating our discontent with our new modern camera gear. We must be seen to have the latest full frame camera, with the highest pixel count and be seen to be traveling the world taking images for a living to be worth anything. 

All this of course, is not good for the planet. I still think that in years to come we will be mining our rubbish tips to find the things we threw away so carelessly. To reuse those metals and alloys that will one day no longer be found naturally.

Another downside to this constant need for better is the image perfection that everyone now seems to be seeking. 
Portraits must be taken with razor thin focus and wonderful creamy bokeh. 
Landscapes must be perfectly sharp from front to back. From the tiny flowers in the foreground to the mountains in the background. Landscapes must of course also have epic light or there's no point in taking the images. 
Shadows are a huge no no. There must not be any areas in your image where you cannot see any detail because of shadows. 
Noise of any kind is also not allowed. Images must be crisp and sharp and noise free. 

So many rules to follow or your images aren't good enough and you fail as a photographer. This I find particularly sad for a number of reasons.

Beginners have been given a huge mountain to climb. They must first have the latest, greatest, expensive camera and they must take perfect pictures straight away. Expectations are too high on them before they've even had a chance to learn about light, composition or what subjects they might want to shoot. So many learners want to learn how to use their cameras but are too afraid to ask questions or share images for fear of being attacked/ridiculed. I think this also has a lot to do with the decline of camera purchases. People expect too much from beginners so they stick with their phones or hide their work and learn slowly on their own. 

Another reason this saddens me is the narrowing of variety we see in images shared online now. Instagram even has pages dedicated to showing the similar images that are shared on there. Pages of pretty girls in front of the same mountain. Or sunsets all taken from the same place. Even our morning coffee is repeated in images all over the internet. Just like we need diversity in our flora and fauna we also need diversity in our images. 

Lastly we are seeking images that are technically perfect and in a lot of ways, sterile. Not only is the variety of images we are taking reducing but with all of the above rules the images are becoming technically perfect clones of each other with no allowance for any extra grain, atmosphere or personality. 

This is not the world I want for my children. I want a world where originality and creativity are encouraged. A world where tech spec talk is replaced by talk of happy adventures and sharing ideas and photo techniques. A world where our beginners are allowed to buy a cheap second hand camera and learn the way I did. By trying things and sharing things and by people encouraging them. They should be allowed to advance at their own pace and be able to choose for themselves when or if they want to upgrade their gear, not be told their gear is crap so they will never be able to take any decent images. That is just rubbish spouted by a lot of insecure people that have themselves, been pushed into the same thing they are trying to push you into. Don't fall for it. 

Be original!

Go back to works by the old masters of the past. See what excites you from their work and then take what you like from everywhere and find your own style. Don't be afraid of deeper depth of field in portraits, people can have in focus ears too. Don't be afraid to have out of focus foreground elements in your landscapes. Embrace shadows! Shadows shape the light on your subject. No shadows means no shape. No contrast and flat images. Embrace noise! A lot of digital cameras have quite nice looking noise, almost like film grain. I love noise in my black and white images. I also like noise in my gritty urban images and my moody landscape images. Most of all

Have Fun!

Find like-minded people to shoot with or find a good online group to share images and techniques with. They are out there.

This is one group I've discovered on Facebook. It's for women only as a lot of women have shared tales of being ridiculed by men in online groups. This is a great group of women of all ages and photographic abilities. They shoot all different subjects and are very encouraging. They also offer a mentoring program. I've posted a link to the group below. If you know of other good groups please feel free to add their links in the comments section below.

Have a great week and keep creating! :)